Gegg swings the axe in a smooth arc above his head, letting the blade thunk down onto a log and embed itself. He lifts the axe again, log and all, and slams the whole bit back down onto his chopping block.
Gegg watches the two halves split apart, freeing the blade. He sets the larger chunk back on his chopping block and raises the axe again, preparing to let it swing down again.
Gegg had planned to spend a relatively peaceful morning puttering around the barn, fixing this and that, but this plan was disrupted by the arrival, late the previous evening, of his two guests. He spent a nearly sleepless night, and is now using the woodpile as an excuse to "avoid disturbing his guests after their journey".
Gegg realizes that he can't avoid them forever, of course, but he's still glad that Sanda volunteered to slop Petunia that morning.
D'zoll is cringing repeatedly in rhythm with Gegg's wood-chopping despite Shorsh's efforts on his behalf.
Gegg splits the half log with a practiced, efficient chop, kicks the pieces into a growing pile for the kitchen woodbox, and wrestles another log onto the chopping block.
D'zoll: [muttered] Does he have to do that, and so early in the morning too?
Shorsh: Farmers get up early, D'zoll. And they have a lot of work to do.
Shorsh figures it doesn't help that Gegg no longer has his son here to contribute to the effort.
Shorsh: I'm sure he's been using an axe since he was strong enough to lift one, and hasn't chopped off a hand or foot yet.
D'zoll: [still muttered] Yah, yah.
Gegg attacks his new victim, berating himself for listening so closely for the sound of the barn door opening. He tries to tell himself that the Sime in the barn is company, and perfectly harmless, and is hardly going to go attacking anyone, especially not him. He has never been half as convincing a storyteller as his friend Jed Mullins, and has never felt the lack so strongly.
Shorsh: Will you be okay if I go get some water for tea?
D'zoll thinks about it and evaluates his condition.
D'zoll: I think I can manage. And if necessary I can always hide under the straw up there.
D'zoll points to the hay.
Samkhat, who has been watching the two strangers from a safe vantage point, meows as one of them points at her.
Shorsh goes into the mobile and gets the large pitcher with the lid.
Shorsh: Make friends with the nice kitty, D'zoll. I'll be back shortly.
Shorsh opens the door and emerges into the early morning sunlight. Looks like a nice day, and smells much fresher out here.
D'zoll notes the meow.
D'zoll: Here, kitty, kitty, kitty....
Samkhat knows her duty. She comes closer to the strange human and stares at him, fur bristling.
D'zoll isn't sure this cat speaks Simelan, but figures it's worth a try.
D'zoll extends a hand carefully.
Samkhat, having exchanged the proper preliminaries, comes closer, hoping for an ear rub.
D'zoll scratches Samkhat lightly behind one ear.
D'zoll zlins the cat, and notes a mild case of worms and incipient oestrus.
Samkhat begins rubbing herself against the new human's leg. He has passed inspection.
Shorsh heads towards the house, ~~ enjoying ~~ the beautiful late summer day.
Gegg pauses in his chopping as Shorsh comes closer.
Gegg: Good morning.
Shorsh: Good morning. I wanted to get some water.
Shorsh flourishes the pitcher.
Gegg nods towards the house.
Gegg: Well's up that way. Help yourself.
Gegg: Did you sleep well?
Shorsh: Yes. Nice and quiet out here.
Gegg: Yeah. The barn owls were hunting farther out than usual. I didn't hear them more than a couple of times.
Gegg thus unintentionally reveals his insomnia.
Samkhat, meanwhile, has settled in on D'zoll's lap for a catnap.
D'zoll pets Samkhat while deciding what to do about Gegg.
Samkhat decides this is a very acceptable human. ~~ contentment ~~
D'zoll uses his Sime dexterity to transfer the sleepy Samkhat to the ground from his lap, and stands up.
Samkhat yawns and settles again.
Shorsh proceeds to the pump and fills the pitcher. He thinks about what a pain it's going to be to haul wash water. He'll have to do it all himself, since it's potentially risky for a Sime in retainers, not to mention awkward and painful.
D'zoll moves to the door but doesn't open it, zlinning for Gegg.
Gegg returns to demolishing his latest log, with the practiced ease of a lifetime of firewood. He's perhaps a bit more enthusiastic about the task than usual, as he discovered long ago that it's an excellent way to work off his fears.
D'zoll calls out loudly, but doesn't shout:
D'zoll: Mister Gegg, is that you?
Gegg tenses in ~~ alarm ~~ at the call, whirling around to face the barn door, instinctively holding the axe in a defensive, two-handed grip across his chest.
D'zoll senses Gegg's reaction but is following his strategy.
Petunia, who had been drowsing in her pen, wakes at the sudden noise.
Petunia, heavy with pregnancy, struggles to her feet and waddles to the gate of her pen, hoping for a handout.
D'zoll looks around for some of the stuff he fed her before, but doesn't see any.
D'zoll: Sorry, Petunia.
D'zoll at least has her name straight now.
Petunia sadly waddles back to her usual spot and lies down.
D'zoll decides to apply the strategy to Petunia that worked with Samkhat.
D'zoll: Here, piggy, piggy, piggy.
Petunia, although just a pig, still knows something about "fool me twice..." She stays put.
Samkhat wakes and responds to the cajoling tone of voice.
D'zoll: [loudly again] Mr. Gegg, I say, are you there?
Gegg: Yes, I'm here.
D'zoll: I apologize for startling you before. Is it all right if I come out of the barn?
Gegg isn't any more relaxed, but his normal ~~ courage ~~, reinforced with a certain amount of ~~ bravado ~~, is as usual starting to get the better of his common sense.
Gegg: Sure. Door's not locked.
D'zoll opens the door slowly, even by Gen standards, and walks out into the yard with exaggerated caution.
Shorsh speeds up to meet him, and stands next to him, pitcher in hand.
Gegg holds his ground, although his hands are gripping the axe more tightly than normal.
Samkhat follows, doing her best to tangle herself around D'zoll's ankles.
D'zoll: [cheerily] Good morning! It's a beautiful day today!
Gegg tries very hard to act normally, instead of running away or attacking, as the part of himself that he despises wants him to do.
Gegg: Good enough, though it'll be hot later on.
Samkhat runs to her favorite human and strops herself against his legs, purring loudly.
Gegg: I see you made a conquest. Faithless beast!
Gegg does not feel secure enough to put down the axe and pet the cat.
Samkhat runs back and forth between the two men, trying to herd them closer together.
D'zoll zlins Gegg's desire, picks up Samkhat and pets her himself instead.
D'zoll: Are the bugs going to get bad later, too?
Shorsh maintains a calm, pleasant expression, ready to provide strong support to D'zoll on the instant.
Gegg: Flies, yes, once it warms up. The mosquitos won't come out until dusk, mostly.
D'zoll: Gotcha. Mosquitoes don't seem to care for Simes, somehow. Do the flies bite too?
Gegg: Only the horse flies, though the others are pesky enough.
Gegg is trying hard to fake a normal conversation, but it's definitely a fake.
Samkhat, secure in the shelter of D'zoll's arms, stares at Shorsh. She still hasn't made up her mind about him.
Samkhat reluctantly gives up her cozy resting place and does her duty. She jumps down and goes to Shorsh, sniffing at his ankles.
Gegg: Better watch out. She won't leave you alone, if you pay attention to her. I have to wonder when she finds time to hunt mice, the worthless creature.
Samkhat hears the tension in her human's voice and growls at Shorsh.
Shorsh smiles at Gegg, ignoring the cat. He looks and zlins ~~ relaxed ~~ and ~~ calm ~~, but he's focused on D'zoll, ~~ ready ~~ for anything.
D'zoll: Cats are pretty clever. Anyhow, I was wondering if you'd like a little assistance splitting that wood.
Gegg raises an eyebrow.
Gegg: You're volunteering?
Shorsh wonders how D'zoll is going to manage that in retainers. Well, he can take the wood into the barn, lock the door, and duck into the mobile if anyone shows up.
D'zoll: Sure. If you'd just use the axe to get the next one started, I think I can take it from there.
Gegg views this suggestion ~~ dubiously ~~. He has D'zoll pegged as a city slicker, and in his experience, city slickers with high-powered jobs don't usually chop their own firewood. He would hate for his guest to accidentally chop a foot off.
D'zoll: I won't put myself in danger, I assure you.
Gegg decides he can manage to supervise at a safe distance, and call a halt if things look too dangerous. He's chronically sleep-deprived, which is making his judgment less sound than usual, alas.
Gegg: All right.
Shorsh is reasonably confident that D'zoll won't chop his foot off. He knows how fast Simes are. But he does wonder just what the channel is up to.
Samkhat, tired of being ignored, growls at Shorsh one last time and stalks back towards the barn.
Gegg hesitates, then lets the axe head thunk down into the log with enough force to chop a less hard object, a Sime, for instance, into bits.
D'zoll: Thanks, that ought to do it for me.
D'zoll walks slowly toward the log.
Gegg has to work to make himself let go of the axe, but he manages, and moves aside, leaving plenty of room for D'zoll to approach the woodpile.
Shorsh moves up, but stays well out of the danger zone.
Gegg doesn't think of it in such terms, but the distance he's keeping is enough to reduce his field's interaction with a Sime's to a minimum.
D'zoll reaches the log, picks it up with one hand, wiggles the axe carefully out of the log with the other, and puts the axe down on the ground carefully.
D'zoll: If this is going to upset you, Mr. Gegg, by all means look away.
Gegg has no idea what his guest intends to do, and therefore whether or not it's likely to be upsetting. He elects to move a bit farther away, and watch.
Shorsh figures if D'zoll pinches a tentacle trying this stunt, it'll teach him to be more careful about doing things in retainers. ~~ calm ~~ ready to support you as and when you need ~~
D'zoll holds the log in both hands, grasping it on both sides of the split, ~~ augments ~~, and slowly tears the log in half lengthwise. He puts both halves down on the ground, turns toward Gegg, and grins.
D'zoll: How about that?
D'zoll signals ~~ thanks ~~ to Shorsh.
Shorsh signals acknowledgment.
Gegg feels an icy finger of ~~ terror ~~ stab through him at this demonstration of Sime strength.
D'zoll raises his eyebrows.
D'zoll: But it's so useful, Mr. Gegg.
Gegg would find it a lot easier to treat D'zoll like a normal person if he'd act the part. He of course defines "normal" as "Gen". He's finding this whole conversation increasingly surrealistic.
D'zoll: Shall I step aside again while you start the next one? I'm really not up to doing this with logs that are still intact.
Shorsh observes that this is not a very fast or efficient scheme for splitting firewood, but demonstrating the practical benefits of Sime-Gen cooperation is clearly not D'zoll's objective here.
Gegg weighs his Sime guest's offer against Toria's need for a full stove box before lunch. He has a pretty decent stack already, however, and decides that he might as well humor his guest a bit longer.
D'zoll: Just to give you a bit of a break, so to speak.
Gegg winces at the pun.
Gegg: All right. Pick yourself out a log, and set it up.
D'zoll picks a log more or less at random that looks about the same size as the previous log and balances it on end.
D'zoll: If I hit the log with the axe, I suspect I'll jar my tentacles badly, which will cause trouble for me.
D'zoll gestures to the axe, then to Gegg, with an "If you would?"
Gegg waits for D'zoll to move away from the woodpile.
D'zoll stares, slaps his forehead lightly, and walks away.
Gegg moves slowly towards the woodpile, D'zoll's forehead-slap making him feel like an idiot. He has a long history of feeling like an idiot, however, and that is easier for him to bear than close proximity to a log-ripping Sime, even wearing retainers. He feels a bit more secure once he has the axe in his hands.
D'zoll: Mr Gegg?
D'zoll: I suggest you take the axe out yourself this time.
D'zoll doesn't say "and hang on to it", but that's what he means.
Gegg shrugs, then forces himself to turn his back partially towards D'zoll in order to face the log. He tries to ignore the disconcerting little voice inside him that's pointing out how quickly the Sime could close the distance between them, without Gegg being able to see it.
Gegg raises the axe and brings it down solidly on the log, with a bit more force than his previous efforts. He looks at the log, more than half split, and debates just finishing the job. He was raised to believe in hospitality, however, and his guest seemed to enjoy pulling the first log apart. He braces his boot against the log and pulls out the axe with a grunt of effort.
Gegg turns back to face D'zoll, relieved that the Sime hasn't moved.
Gegg: There you are.
Gegg retreats, using his conversation to "justify" keeping a close eye on D'zoll.
D'zoll walks slowly to the log and repeats his parlor trick, using a little less augmentation this time, but still taking it very slow and easy to protect his laterals. He sets up another log, retreats to his post, and gestures to Gegg.
D'zoll: After you.
Gegg notes that D'zoll's current choice, although a bit smaller in diameter than the previous two logs, happens to be a chunk of walnut, instead of the previous white cedar.
Gegg decides that his guest wants a real challenge, and steps up to make the initial chop. His axe doesn't penetrate nearly as far, of course, and he raises axe (and log) above his head a second time, deepening the wedge.
D'zoll of course doesn't know walnut from a wall.
Gegg pulls the axe out and steps back.
D'zoll ~~ augments ~~ as before to rip the log, but somehow nothing happens. He raises the level of augmentation by several notches, but the log continues to resist.
D'zoll: I suggest standing back, Mr. Gegg. When this one goes, splinters may fly.
D'zoll signals Shorsh to do the same.
Gegg: Don't strain yourself too hard. I can get it with the axe.
Gegg nonetheless moves farther away.
Shorsh moves back a little.
D'zoll: I won't be under any strain. The log, though...
D'zoll raises his ~~ maximum ~~ non-emergency level of augmentation and pulls. The log breaks with a loud report, and D'zoll drops the two halves rather suddenly.
D'zoll rubs his hands together, which are stinging from the shock; luckily, his laterals have escaped harm once more.
D'zoll: [amused] I think I'll leave those to you and your axe, Mr. Gegg. Simes have their limits.
Shorsh is zlinnably ~~ relieved ~~. He was not happy about the last log in this stunt.
Gegg: Humpf. It's faster to use the axe, anyway.
D'zoll: But more work. If I weren't wearing these things, I could do it faster and easier. But of course ...
D'zoll looks pointedly at his retainers.
Gegg follows D'zoll's gaze, feeling ~~ queasy ~~ at the thought of what's underneath them.
Shorsh wonders if D'zoll is really going to risk taking his retainers off, when that will make it legal for anyone who sees him to shoot him on sight.
Gegg: I guess they would get in the way, at that.
D'zoll: [cheery again] They would and they do. But that's life in Genland! So I'll leave you to do the splitting, since you are definitely better at it than I am.
D'zoll turns his attention to Shorsh.
D'zoll: There was something said about tea?
Shorsh: Yes. I could do with a cup.
D'zoll: I see you have some water, so let's go make it.
D'zoll begins to walk back to the barn.
D'zoll: A fine morning to you, Mr. Gegg.
Shorsh nods to Gegg, turns and follows.
Gegg looks after them until they're safely back inside the barn, then begins to whittle his way through the wood pile once more.
Shorsh: Maybe you should make the tea while I recover from that.
D'zoll: By all means, Naztehr.
D'zoll takes the pitcher from Shorsh.
Shorsh: Are your tentacles all right?
Shorsh opens the barn door and ushers the channel in.
D'zoll: As far as I can tell in these things, yes. My hands are buzzing a bit.
Shorsh: I'm not surprised. Let's get the retainers off.
D'zoll goes into the mobile and fills the kettle, turns on the burner, and starts to search for the trin.
D'zoll: Just a minute. Where did we put the trin?
Shorsh: It's in the cabinet on the left. In the red can.
D'zoll: Oh yes.
Shorsh figures D'zoll is making some kind of point by keeping the retainers on.
D'zoll gets the trin down and adds a measured amount to the two cups standing by the sink.
D'zoll: Okay, now.
D'zoll extends his arms to Shorsh.
Shorsh carefully unlatches and removes the retainers, sets them on the counter and takes D'zoll's forearms.
D'zoll: Ahhhhhh. ~~ relief ~~
Shorsh: ~~ affection for this silly bugger ~~
D'zoll: [plaintively] All I wanted to do was to get him cooperating with me. How was I supposed to know that one log would be so much stronger than the others?
Shorsh: What if it had been the first one you tried? ~~ amusement ~~
D'zoll: Why, I would have failed, of course. And then I'd have had to try Plan B. After thinking up Plan B, that is.
Shorsh gently massages D'zoll's tentacle sheaths.
D'zoll imitates Samkhat.
Shorsh: So what did you zlin while playing musical logs?
D'zoll: It's not so much what I zlinned, which was fear with occasional episodes of terror, overlaid with courage, and so on and so forth. What was important was that he stood his ground. The next time, it'll be easier to do that, and easier still the time after that.
Shorsh: According to Bibi, he's managed to stay within a few meters of her for fairly extended conversations.
Shorsh thinks those conversations probably took as much out of Bibi as out of Gegg.
D'zoll: True. But that's conversation, not cooperation.
D'zoll is ~~ pleased ~~ with this bit of wordplay.
Shorsh: So, the desensitization begins.
D'zoll: So I hope, at least. Or if not desensitization -- based on what he was able to do at Hannard's Ford -- at least the beginning of a process.
Shorsh: What next?
D'zoll: Well, I've been thinking about having him bring his rifle to sessions.
Shorsh is a very experienced Donor, so doesn't let his ~~ shock ~~ and ~~ horror ~~ appear as more than a faint whisper of what they might be.
Shorsh: Uh... not loaded, I hope?
Shorsh doesn't think that would be as effective, although it would be a lot easier on his own nerves.
D'zoll: Of course, loaded. How can it serve as a transitional object if it isn't able to reassure him? Just think of it as a stuffed animal -- with teeth.
Shorsh refrains from grabbing him by the throat and shaking some sense into him. He is an adult, and a skillful, experienced therapist.
Shorsh: Well, if he shot you dead, he'd probably feel really bad, so maybe that will help deter him.
D'zoll: What's the first thing a pre-Donor has to learn, after all? That he does not need to fear Simes. Since training Gegg in the ordinary way is probably hopeless, he needs some other safeguard for himself. Or shall we teach him the Sime-killing grip instead?
Shorsh thinks about it.
D'zoll: [helpfully] After all, he knows the rifle works. He'd have to take our word for it about the other.
Shorsh: There are a few problems with that approach.
D'zoll: I'm all ears.
Shorsh: For one, he'd have to touch your arms to learn where to grip. I don't see him even examining your arms at close range for a while yet.
D'zoll: Fair enough. Perhaps he could keep the rifle for a while, then, and learn the grip at a later stage. In addition, he could practice on your arms, even though they don't quite feel the same.
Shorsh: For another... ~~ well controlled shiver of horror ~~ I can see him controlling his use of the rifle -- he knows how to do that -- but if he panics when you've got him in a transfer contact...
Shorsh: I'd rather he didn't know exactly how to murder you in the worst way imaginable.
D'zoll: [black humor] Well, if he did, you could always use the rifle.
Shorsh flings a mix of ~~ horror ~~ and ~~ humor ~~ at D'zoll, not very hard.
D'zoll soaks it up without even breaking a sweat.
D'zoll: No fair! I can't blast you back, you clueless Gen!
Shorsh: Well, there are no doubt Sime-shooting experts all over the place out here. Maybe one of them will do the honors. Help us out, eh?
Shorsh looks over at the kettle which is boiling.
Shorsh: You were going to make tea?
Shorsh opens the right side cabinet and takes out a package of nutritionally complete biscuits for Simes, colloquially known as "Channel Chow", and a more varied assortment of foods for himself.
D'zoll makes the tea and serves Shorsh, then himself.
D'zoll: Here in the heart of Genland, where the entire population spends most of the time thinking about food, you are going to make me eat those? I think not.
Shorsh: What do you propose? A slice of Petunia?
Shorsh eats a triticale and soy cracker flavored with caraway and cumin.
D'zoll: I propose you head down to the eatery -- even this burg must have one -- and fetch back something a little more palatable. Or I can go with you, if you prefer.
D'zoll refuses to zlin Shorsh eating.
Shorsh: Here have some of these crackers. I'll ask Gegg or Toria later if we can buy some of their garden produce.
D'zoll: Oh, very well.
Shorsh turns up the volume gradually on the ~~ hunger ~~ and ~~ deliciousness ~~
D'zoll eats a cracker, then another.
D'zoll: [munching] Not bad. It's a deal.